A large historic photo covers one of the dining room walls of the Mary & Joseph Retreat Center in Rancho Palos Verdes. In it a group of nuns wearing long dark habits and veils run towards an unseen destination under the attentive look of lay people behind them.A few minutes before the picture was taken, Auxiliary Bishop Timothy Manning and the Daughters of Mary and Joseph had broken ground of the women religious’ novitiate, the first facility built on the eight-acre site donated in part by Cardinal James Francis McIntyre. It was October 1959; four years later (May 25, 1963), Cardinal James McIntyre blessed the brand new retreat center, a few months after the first married couples’ retreat had been held. With education their main ministry, the sisters knew firsthand about the importance of a Christian-based home for the success and future of their students in compliance with Vatican II’s call for universal holiness.It has been 50 “challenging yet fulfilling years,” said former and current officials who prepare for jubilee re-dedication May 26. Msgr. Joseph Brennan, moderator of the Curia/vicar general, will preside at a jubilee Mass.Daughter of Mary and Joseph Sister Linda Webb — former superior general of the religious community and current member of the California regional leadership team — was a novice at the time of the building’s blessing. Most likely, she says with a smile and dressed in “civilian” attire, she is among the young nuns running in the aforementioned photo, which preceded the center’s status as the “best kept secret on the hill,” and its development as a center that serves a diverse faith-based community through workshops and events.“They were visionaries,” Sister Webb said of the founders. “They saw the whole need in the community and the dream began, providing a quiet place for the person’s spiritual development.”Her parents were part of the group of couples attending the first retreat, she added.Throughout the years, the center outgrew even its founders’ wildest expectations, said Sister Julia Costello, former executive director (1974-78) and still a staff member who was among the first to facilitate Ignatian spirituality retreats.The center, which operates with a $1.2 million budget, is well known world and nationwide, but officials are working on drawing more locals, especially younger generations, through marketing efforts primarily to Catholic high schools (for Kairos retreats), parishes and other institutions. Its Facebook page and website draw a considerable amount of potential visitors as well.About 50 men and women currently form the League of Volunteers, established in the mid-1950s with Hollywood notables such as Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis, Fred Murray, Ricardo Montalban and Loretta Young. It was the league that raised the funds to build the retreat center with generous contributions from its members and parishioners from parishes in Southern California, where the DMJ sisters taught. Its fundraisers continued until the 1980s and 1990s when its membership dwindled. Retreat center staff took over fundraising duties, essentially to keep the facilities repaired and updated, such as “accessibility” infrastructure for people with disabilities and the installation of new technology. “Maintenance and repairs are an ongoing undertaking,” said communications and volunteers coordinator Jan Nowinski.The league is currently led by recently elected president Martha Huthmacher, wife of board member Bruce Huthmacher.Her goal is to “make a concerted effort to recruit more volunteers.” Aside from office support, volunteers offer tours throughout the campus and serve as hostesses during the center’s annual fundraiser, or other annual events such as Mother’s Day and Christmas celebrations.During its initial years the center was busy welcoming emerging groups such as Charismatic Renewal, Marriage Encounter and the Christian Family Movement that held spiritual seminars, prayer meetings and Scripture programs. In the early 1970s, 12-Step groups started holding weekly meetings at the center, some of which still meet on a regular basis, drawing Palos Verdes Peninsula residents.A growing number of people seeking spiritual growth in the mid-1970s gave way to mid-week extended contemplative retreats that are still sponsored each year by the center. And in the past several years, M&J has become the home to the archdiocesan diaconate formation program and similar programs from out-of-state dioceses.Responding to the 21st century spiritual landscape, the staff led by executive director Annette Lenneman has welcomed the interfaith community — pioneering steps were taken by Sister Costello — that gathers at the facility to hold a variety of meetings. In recent years, healthcare personnel have been welcomed to participate in spiritual retreats, meeting a need in the healthcare field.“Our goal,” said Lenneman, “is to be here and continue to offer a place of compassion and hospitality, meeting people where they’re at. This is a place to come and slow down.”For more information, call (310) 377-4867 or visit www.maryjoseph.org.{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0510/spmandj/{/gallery}